Schooling during COVID-19 crisis: Sweden

1 – Most school systems in the world have organized emergency assemblages to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. What role have digital platforms played in these arrangements?
Schools have remained open for primary and junior students with only senior high schools moving to online only instruction. However, strict rules about keeping children home at the sign of any symptoms of illness have meant that schools generally have many students at home at any given time. Consequently, teachers often define packages of online resources for students to work with at home, but these resources are used on an ad-hoc basis, generally related to, but not directly synchronized with the work taking place in the classroom.

By contrast, at the senior high school level, instruction for all students has been delivered online. For this level, learning management systems were already commonplace before the crisis with these platforms acting as centres of coordination for classroom activities. Moving to distance education, these platforms and the content on them continue to take a key role, but in many ways, it is video-conferencing platforms that have become substitutes for the classroom. In this sense, the model for senior high school instruction centered around face-to-face lessons complimented by self-study with textbooks and other material resources has not dramatically changed for most subject areas without practical moments.

2 – Has the Covid-19 crisis changed the data policies in education in your country?
As a European Union member, Sweden has a relatively strong data privacy protection regime nationally that follows the General Data Protection Regulation. However, the school system can be characterised as highly decentralized and as such, responsibility for data policy specific for schooling is largely decided at the level of municipalities, not-for profit schools and commercial school companies. Before the crisis, several influential voices called for better national oversight of the relationship between schools and commercial internet platform providers, but this discussion has been somewhat quieted. As is the case in many countries, the crisis in Sweden engendered what can be described as ‘fast policy’ making with examples of local schooling providers rapidly setting rules and guidelines for the use of new digital platforms while signing new contracts with commercial providers to increase the capacity of their infrastructure.

3 – How have remote emergency education provisions (e.g. emergency technological infrastructures, hardware, software, home visits, other new practices) affected teachers and students from marginalized populations in your country? Which technological infrastructure do they have access to?
Even in Sweden with over 90% of the population with broadband internet access, issues of marginalization exist. At the level of technical access, many students have access to school provided laptops or tablets, but not all do and not all have access to a fast internet connection. Issues of hardware access and connection have been present in northern rural areas of the country, but the lack of school closures for younger children has limited the effects.

Beyond technical access, other issues of marginalization have been reported in the media. In particular, the issue of students lacking a study space despite internet access has been raised in relation to some communities in the inner suburbs of the large cities. Contrary to the general norm in Sweden, some students in these areas live in multi-generation family arrangements and often in relatively small apartments. In response, some senior high schools have opened spaces for those students who lack a place to do their schoolwork.

4 – Would you speak of a “pandemics pedagogy” (Williamson et al, 2020) in your country? If there is one, which features does it have?
If there is such a thing as a “pandemics pedagogy” in Sweden it would be distinctly different in primary and junior schools to senior high schools. While schools for younger children have maintained some degree of normalcy by staying open, they have adapted to having large numbers of children kept home for showing symptoms of illness. At the same time, teachers have been able to assume that parents can create accounts on the many instructional content platforms that have been offering free access during the crisis. This may have produced a kind of parallel semi-formal pedagogy.

By contrast, a “pandemics pedagogy” of senior high school in Sweden would likely imply a rather traditional instructional approach, perhaps more traditional than that before the crisis. Synchronous video-based sessions have become a dominant mode of instruction as they allow traditional teaching to be digitized with relatively little adaptation. This is an understandable choice given the available infrastructure in Sweden and the time constraints associated with the rapid switch to distance education. However, synchronous video can be rather limiting in terms of the types of instructional activities it supports, potentially leading to more traditional lecture style teaching.

Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response (top) and Sharon McCutcheon (below) on Unsplash